Thursday, November 18, 2004

Behind the success of the Wal-Mart Colossus

As my wife is still required to take it easy, I have become the shopper in our house. Yesterday, I searched the local discount stores for some necessary household items. As is my wont, I wandered over to the sporting goods section to see what was there. In the process, I had an epiphany.

You ever wonder, to paraphrase General Patton, why Wal-Mart is kicking the hell out of ShopKo, Target, and K-Mart? Blind man could see it in a minute. Those store chains have completely abandoned the male market. They have plenty of silly, frilly items like jewelry, clothes, cosmetics, and purses in the shape of bustiers (no really -- I saw it with my own eyes). They have very few, if any, of manly items such as guns, tools, and car parts.

The local ShopKo doesn't sell guns. Neither does Target (despite their name and logo). K-Mart seems to consider it an afterthought: The gun counter is small, sparsely stocked, and to buy anything requires the assistance of a never-to-be-found clerk. I expect they will get rid of guns completely now that Sears has taken them over.

The local Wal-Marts, on the other hand, have large sporting goods sections that always have one or two employees behind the counter. The selection is adequate, although Wal-Mart has offended many gun owners with their refusal to sell handguns and their strict interpretation of Federal laws. Still, the sporting goods/outdoors section is well-stocked and roughly 3 to 4 times the size of those of other discount stores.

What's more, all the Super Wal-Marts seem to have the same design, with all the "man-friendly" departments -- sporting goods, automotive, hardware, home improvement -- located in the same corner of the store. Men are definitely not personae non grata here. And because the departments are staffed by male clerks who seem to know what they are talking about, rather than by man-hating single mothers who are on the job due to welfare reform, men naturally prefer to shop there.

The bottom line is that men spend money, too. ShopKo, Target, and K-Mart have decided to ignore some 50% of American consumers, so those consumers have gone to the one discount store that is friendly to them, and in the process have dragged their wives along with them. Wal-Mart sells guns (albeit imperfectly); the others gave up their guns to please whiny shopaholic women. It's obvious which has been the better strategy.


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